National Security Policy: The Public Version By Dr Tehmina Aslam Ranjha

On 14 January 2022, Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan finally unveiled the public version of the country’s first-ever National Security Policy (NSP). The policy is meant for five years (2022-26) and it will be reviewed at the end of every year.

At the occasion, the PM said that the country was in a dire need of a multi-pronged strategy for the future to ensure the protection of its citizens and guard economic interests. The policy is meant for defining the country’s future direction which would be citizen-centric to national security. Further, the policy placed a special emphasis on economic security. At the occasion, the PM said that the policy was reflective of a new mindset barring the previous one which was centred essentially on military security – and not beyond that.

Pakistan had been obsessed with and driven by the security mindset in the past is a big admission thereby indicating that Pakistan remained constrained from offering its citizens the due socio-economic leeway and the country the due economic prosperity. In other words, security-driven policies impinged upon not only the citizens’ rights but also their economic wellness. Apparently, Pakistan has decided to desensitize its security sensibility – one interpretation could be that Pakistan may reduce its defence budget. The reduction could be justified as face-saving dictated by the policy only. At least, there is a realization that security-driven policies remained short of serving the national or citizenry purpose.

Pakistan had been obsessed with and driven by the security mindset in the past is a big admission.

As announced, the policy document has been finalized after obtaining a full civil-military consensus, besides seeking a limited and selected public participation. This point itself indicates that the policy is a product of the unanimity settled between the bureaucracy and the military excluding the public representatives. No discussion or debate on the policy has taken place in the parliament and this is the major flaw stalking the policy. Unfortunately, the best documents made with the best of intentions fail to yield the desired results just because these are enforced and not evolved.

Pakistan is a federation driven by a parliamentary form of government. Though the National Security Committee had given a nod on 27 December 2021 and a day after the federal cabinet had approved the policy, any policy not debated in the parliament is bound to fight for its legitimacy and struggle for its survival. In politically diverse countries such as Pakistan, the procedure precedes the intent.

Reportedly, the full document unfolding the NSP is 110 pages long, of which only 50 pages have been made public. Hence, more than fifty per cent of documents would remain confidential. This brings to the fore the next challenge: the Pakistanis are being subjected to a policy not known to them fully. The exposed 50 pages may not be representative of the classified rest. At least, a parliamentary debate was required to decide if any portion were worth classifying. Again, in ethnically heterogeneous countries such as Pakistan, where provinces harbour suspicions against the Center, keeping part of the policy secret – not to say the substantial part – exacerbates the fear of the unknown.

That the policy is meant for five years (2022-26) is an interesting point, especially in the background that the incumbent government itself is left with almost two years to govern Pakistan. That is, the policy would outlive the current government, thereby leaving it up to the next government to decide whether or not to continue with the policy. Any policy which gives an impression of fashioning a parallel constitution is bound to founder on the question of legitimacy or validity, no matter what pious intentions engendering the policy are.

The exposed part of the policy contains chapters on national cohesion, economy, defence, internal security, foreign policy and human security. On paper, a high-sounding and jargon-loaded policy document can be prepared, but to implement the policy is an arduous task. For instance, the idea of national cohesion as “unity in diversity” is impressive, but it demands forbearance, which is in short supply in Pakistan’s administrative circles. The country has recently witnessed a political campaign to undo the 18th Constitutional Amendment, which had revitalized the 1973 Constitution by introducing into it the promised provincial autonomy in April 2010. Over the years, the Center had expanded its role, size and reach to overwhelm the provinces, which are still apprehensive of the Center. The trepidation is a major challenge to the idea of unity in diversity. The issues like managing islands in Sindh, protecting the fishing rights of the locals in Baluchistan and securing freedom of expression of the Pashtuns in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are all reflections of an ongoing and underlying confrontation between the Center and the provinces.

Certainly, Pakistan has experienced different attempts meant for its cohesion, be it devising a common language, a common religion, a common political party, or even a common sport like Cricket. What Pakistan has overlooked is the respect for the constitution and what the constitution promises to the provinces and the citizens. If the provinces still have the rudimentary infrastructure to realize provincial autonomy, it does not mean that the autonomy is withdrawn. Similarly, if the citizens are unaware of their fundamental rights, it does not mean that the State can bypass them. One of the ways to appease the provinces and mollify the citizens was to prompt a parliamentary debate on it. A commentary through the media does not substitute the need for the legislative discussion.

Generally speaking, the 50-paged NSP document is a commentary on the existing social, political, economic and diplomatic subjects. Suggestive sentences can also be found as the way forward – an expression of a research paper – but the ideas expressed in them are already known.

The next step is also gruelling. That is, the NSP would be implemented by the National Security Division (NSD), which is housed in the PM’s office, Constitution Avenue, Islamabad, and headed by a Secretary of the Office Management Group of Pakistan’s civil service. Interestingly, the task has been assigned to the NSD but the mechanism to achieve the end is still speculative.

The writer is an analyst on national security and counter-terrorism. She tweets @TA_Ranjha.

Source: Published in Daily Times​

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